Thursday, January 27, 2011

mal du pays/ homesickness

 When Bryan died, I lost more than him. I lost my home, my independence, and a sense of community and a grateful belief in life's balance. When we reunited, I was restlessly in college after two years off traveling, spiritually orphaned by the death of my grandfather. When he appeared it made a kind of sense to me: one witty man with a penchant for black coffee and crossword puzzles vanished, and in his place another appeared. One of Fate's exchanges. In a short story, I wrote this love song to Bryan and Flint:

"He was a coney island baby from the West side of town, his mother a waitress, his father a third shift cook. On his days off he went up to the restaurant and sat at the booth with the waitresses on their rotating breaks, drinking black coffee by the pot. He had no pretensions. He liked coleslaw and French fries slathered in ketchup. He liked Motown songs on the radio and sang along to Stevie Wonder and Martha and the Vandellas. Flint and I reconciled. The city took his shape for me-- all the melancholy and humor and greasy food and bus exhaust-- and I fell in love with it, and with him."

Through this last year, my old Flint enthusiasm has been dashed. There is no safe place in this town: there is nowhere to go that is not Bryan or Papa. The fires started just weeks before Bryan passed, and as they raged through the spring and summer, I privately sided with the arsonists. Burn this place down. I hated Flint for creating the kind of environment that left Bryan vulnerable; that left me with little resources to carry on living alone.

It's taken all these months to realize that community wasn't really lost, I just turned away from it. I could not have anticipated the amount of kindness people showed me. The generosity of my closest friends and their determination to save me from self-imposed exile. Deepened connections with other friends bearing griefs I hadn't fully understood before. Social workers at the Shelter happy to Facebook chat at 3 a.m. during my raw, sleepless nights. Despite a name change, elementary and high school teachers tracking me down to send kind words and good memories.

From this year of widowhood, I've experienced the funny minor celebrity of being a Flint writer, too. I always feel like my Broadside confessionals are written to satisfy me and give the Shelter a little publicity: I give little thought to anyone actually reading them. Surreal this summer when a Jehovah's Witness showed up on my mom's front porch and, after I told him my name, he said he had read my pieces in Broadside and that he was sorry for my loss. A similar response from my minister: I'd never told her about my writing, but after service one Sunday she stopped me and complimented me on my December piece. At a post-Christmas community clean-up organized by a friend, I was introduced to a group and received as a greeting from one woman, "I read your stuff. I hope to read more."

I have had to learn that if Bryan return to my life felt like a gift, it's no less a gift because it's gone. Flint's a little like that: I have to learn the many problems don't negate the blessings. So Flint and I have not really reconciled again, but I forget how many lovely people I know, how many things I love in this town, and how I'll end up homesick for it, like I always do, after a few weeks of strange beds and climates. Walking around England or Africa, daydreaming of Vernor's and the veggie club at Steady Eddy's with my friends and the solitary cycles out to Bluebell Beach.

No comments:

Post a Comment